On the morning of May 28, 1754, a party of 35 French soldiers detached from Fort Duquesne were attacked at this spot, a gloomy defile dominated by a 30-foot cliff wall.
The French camped in poor ground at the base of the cliff to shield themselves from heavy rain. Just past dawn they were ambushed by a force of Virginia militia and Seneca Native Americans under the command of George Washington.
The encounter lasted barely 10 minutes. It resulted in the deaths of between 10 and 14 Frenchmen (depending on the account) and the capture of all but one of the remaining troops.
To compound the seriousness of the situation, the wounded leader of the French party, Ensign Joseph Coulon deVilliers, Sieur Jumonville, was murdered with a coup de gras by Seneca sachem Half King after the shooting had stopped. Jumonville carried a letter to be delivered to Washington stating that the Virginians should depart French territory at once. This meant Jumonville was leading a diplomatic group. Washington countered that the French were under arms and intent on spying; he used as evidence the fact that this French party had abused the civilian Christopher Gist at his settlement the previous day.
Whoever was to blame, as Horace Walpole said that Washington’s actions “set the world on fire” and indirectly plunged three empires into the first world war.
For more information about the Jumonville Glen,
visit the National Park Service Web site.